A Seasonal Treat
Head to Highlands & Cashiers, N.C., for an Unhurried and Charming Trip This Fall
Written by Elizabeth Fletcher
At 4,118 feet above sea level, Highlands, N.C., is the second highest town east of the Mississippi. Its downtown sits on a plateau above the valleys below. Highlands is a place that’s used to being on top. Year-round population is 3,200 but swells to 18,000 during season, and with weather that is considerably cooler than Atlanta, a little more than 120 miles away, many of the homes here still don’t have air condition. As a matter of fact, you can usually have a fire eight months out of the year and a cotton sweater comes in handy on cool mountain nights.
Downtown Highlands brings back memories of days gone by, where the sidewalks are brick and you won’t find backlit signs or chain restaurants. Local businesses caters to a high-end clientele, so window shopping here is a treat, though most folks aren’t able to leave without a few shopping bags filled with the fabulous finds that initially caught their eye. McCulley’s is one of the best experiences I have had in a fine cashmere shop anywhere. The selection of styles and colors abound, and if you are looking for a gift, there is something for everyone. Acorn’s is also a must-see on any shopper’s list, featuring fine European and American antiques, gifts, jewelry plus designer women’s apparel, handbags and scarves.
Lodging is plentiful, but Old Edwards Inn and Spa in town is the crème de la crème. Not to be slighted is The Inn at Half Mile Farm, whose pastoral environment has been the setting for many engagements, honeymoons or anniversaries. For dining, the town proudly boasts 29 restaurants with five of those being Wine Spectator Restaurants. To put that in perspective Atlanta only has 35 Wine Spectator Restaurants. Miller Union’s loss of Chef Justin Burdett was gain for Ruka’s Table, where Burdett utilizes fresh ingredients from local sources as well as all natural and sustainable farmers.
Cashiers Captures Hearts at First Hello
Ten miles east sits Cashiers, Highlands’s younger, less glamorous and not so naughty sister. Cashiers is a beautiful place in which to wander and savor the beauty of the mountains. The Village Green in the center of town has trails, a dahlia competition and, during the season, it hosts concerts, festivals and even the reading of the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July. Groovin on the Green is similar to an outdoor concert experience at Chastain Park, except a hat is passed for donations rather than the requirement of purchasing a ticket.
For overnight accommodations, don’t miss a night at High Hampton Inn. A 1,400-acre playground for the young and old, the Inn is on the National Register of Historic Places and hosts generation after generation of guests that return annually to renew, rejuvenate and reconnect amidst nature’s playground.
Most of the stores are locally owned and one of my favorites is Rusticks, featuring high-quality home furnishings with a rustic yet sophisticated feel. The showroom boasts an ever-changing selection of upholstered, leather and reclaimed wood furniture, English and French antiques, European pine, porch furnishings and unique home accessories. A special find is Sorelle Design
Studio where Tami Carlstedt whips out fine leather cuffs
adorned with vintage jewelry.
The town is blessed to have Canyon Kitchen at Lonesome Valley with Chef John Fleer at the helm. Another gem is Gamekeepers Tavern, which offers fine dining inside or patio dining with an outdoor fireplace. Cashier’s Farmer’s Market is one of the most upscale farmers markets I have ever been to and resembles more of a Dean & Deluca than your typical farmer’s market. The barbecue is smoked on premises and they don’t share or bottle their sauces — their way of keeping you coming back for more.
Both of these towns offer enlightened good times in an unhurried, charming setting. It’s a little bit of heaven for me!